Sunday, June 30, 2013

Plastic kayaks - Pros and Cons

Recently, a friend let me paddle his plastic kayak, a boat that he was quite fond of.  I never turn down an opportunity to try out other kayaks and so I got in this one and paddled away.  The boat looked very pretty with its white bottom and yellow top and was still new and shiny, but the bow seemed too blunt and pushed too much water, creating much noise in the process. It wasn't a flaw that you would be likely to notice just by looking at the boat, but it was readily apparent once you paddle it.
I reflected on this and came to the conclusion that I couldn't be the only person that noticed this problem with that boat.  But given that the manufacturer had already invested in a mold, he probably had to sell a certain number of boats before he could recover the cost of the mold.  Only after that point could he consider making a new mold.  The longer he held on to the old mold, the cheaper the cost per boat would be.
And that, in a nutshell is one of the major problem of mass produced boats.  The thing that makes mass produced boats cheap is that they involve a minimum of labor.  Make a mold, and once you have a mold, you can squirt plastic into it and out comes one shiny boat after another.  But the mass production is a good thing only if you have designed a good mold.  The manufacturer had better built a number of prototypes and tested them for good design before committing to a mold.
If users give the manufacturer feedback on design flaws, he really can't do much until his first mold is payed for. And this is more of an issue for small manufacturers who, lacking deep pockets need to pay as they go.
If you buy a custom boat from an experienced builder, you pay more than for a production boat, but you are also less likely to be a victim of design flaws.  I suspect the custom builder gets to build a lot more boats and gets a lot more design experience than the builder of production boats.  I might be wrong, of course, given that I don't really know what credentials production boat designers have or whether production boat manufacturers even have experienced designers on their teams or just hire consultants or copy someone else's designs.  If anyone knows, I'd like to hear from them.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

No More Spots

The dust motes, like floaters in your eye are most noticeable in the sky which is a uniform color.  They are not that noticeable elsewhere.  In a way, they are cool once you get over the notion that the sky should be a pure uninterrupted blue.  The floater are like nature's graffiti on your sky.
Over time, my camera accumulated dust in the path of the light between the outside of the lens and the sensor that translates that light into digital data.  And it never got better, just worse. This never used to be a problem with the old cameras.  But for some reason it is a problem with the digital cameras.  So I thought that the end of my digital camera was near.  But just for grins, I checked out the handy google find anything on the internet utility and lo and behold, there was a guy in Oakland who removed dust from your camera.
The way he told it, the dust is not in the lens but accumulates on the sensor that translates light to digital data. I'm not sure that that's the only place the dust was that he removed, but the net effect was that for $65, I was able to get a regulation blue sky without spots on it.  We'll see how long that lasts.

Wendy Tremayne and the Good Life Lab

I met Wendy Tremayne through my wife who participated in a Swap o Rama Rama event at the San Mateo Makers Faire.  The Swap o Rama Rama idea was Wendy's and the concept is based on the calculus of what it takes to live a Good Life.  Is it better to be a wage slave and live a crummy life so you can buy commodities with money or is it better to live the life you want and get your commodities by some other means.  Wendy and her partner Mikey did the math and concluded that it was better for them to live the life they wanted and get their commodities by means that involved as little money as possible.
So that's what the book is all about, the math on what it takes to have a decent life when you have a job and money but little time vs. having a decent life when you have no job and little money but all the time to do what you want. Plus, having done the math and concluding that you'd rather have a good life and little money, how to tap into the waste stream to get the commodities you need and developing skills to do stuff on your own that you used to pay other people to do when you had money but no time.
And having had some time to talk to Wendy, I also found out that she is one of those genuinely authentic human beings that radiate a goodness that outshines any ego that might still be clinging to their bodies.
Quitting your job to live the good life is obviously not for everyone, but if by some stroke of luck you get fired and can't find another job, you should maybe get this book and look at some alternatives.
For a more in depth review of the book you might also want to look here. The review also has an interview with Wendy.
Perhaps the best part of the Wendy approach to the good life is that is not a fixed prescription but rather a more general approach, that is, living off the waste stream of our culture is not a permanent solution, but rather a way to live right now while there is a large waste stream.  If that waste stream were to dry up, then some other way of living will be needed, but for now, it's a good way to go.

Just-In-Time Upcycling

In the old days, like back as far as the 60's people used to re-use stuff.  Then along came re-cycling which was not the same as re-use.  Re-cycling meant grinding stuff up and then using it as feed stock for something brand-new.  Old stuff was passe. New stuff was hip.  Recycling was something that hippies did.  Re-use was something your mom or your grandmother did. That is, your mom didn't throw away your old clothes but patched them up or made them last a while longer by maybe altering them or embroidering on them or turning old stuff into quilts, or your dad would take bent nails and pound on them with a hammer till they were straight again and could have another life. 
And then, stuff became so cheap that re-use became too quaint for any reasonable person to countenance.  Re-use became more expensive if you counted your time than simply throwing stuff away and buying new.  That was in the days when people had jobs.
But now that jobs are going extinct, more and more people don't have jobs and all of a sudden, re-use isn't such a stupid proposition.  But re-use isn't a cool name for what we are doing and instead it has been re-branded as up-cycling. Whatever. 
It is what it is and little by little, more and more people are tapping into the recycling and waste stream and extracting materials from it that once upon a time were practically worthless.  Instead of grinding everything down to pulp and then squirting it out of some machine to make new stuff, more and more people are taking the practically worthless stuff and using it as is or modifying it just a little to fit their own use.  Nothing new, really, but as more and more people do this, the stuff that used to be worthless will become more and more precious.  With nobody having jobs and the money to buy the new stuff made from old stuff, the old stuff as is without being recycled will become more expensive.
So this is where the concept of just-in-time upcycling comes in.  You have to grab stuff out of the waste stream and modify it to suit you while you can, before everyone else realizes that this is where it's at and makes the stuff that is now being thrown away into an expensive commodity.
Check out Wendy Tremayne and The Good Life in my next post for more on this topic.

Good News!! Tapping the Waste Stream

While the world economy as a whole might be circling the drain and every other country is having watercanon fights with its citizens, here in Alameda, we are making do with what we have, namely, leftover stuff from the times of plenty.  All this sort of thing is given catchy names like upcycling, diverting the waste stream, etc.  what it comes down to is that if you can't afford new stuff, you might want to use some old stuff instead.  And so the dog - woman boat featured a few posts back was made almost entirely out of old stuff, not as a stunt but out of necessity, the necessity being that when money is scarce, you make do by other means.
The builder, Inka had access to various pieces of cast off wood from her building jobs and the skin of the boat was made of scraps that I had left from other boat projects that Inka then sewed together on a friend's sewing maching.  For the coaming rims, we scavenged some branches from weed trees in the neighborhood and when it was all done, we had a boat that for the most part wasn't that much different from a boat that we would have built had we used all new materials. 
Skin of sewn-together pieces from other projects, giving the boat a traditional look, although from a distance, you can hardly see the seams.
And that in a nutshell is what boat building in the Arctic was like in the old days.  You had to scrounge all the stuff you made your boats out of.  Takes a little more time than buying everything fresh at the boat supply store, but worth it, especially when you have more time than money.
So if you have more time than money, contact me and I will tell you how to make a boat from found materials.

Moving Boats

Jan Adkins wrote a book called Moving Heavy Things.  The other day I decided to use the two ton crane at the shop to lift a kayak up into storage.  A bit of overkill for a 40 pound boat, but what the heck. The thing was unwieldy and sometimes a crane is just the thing to use, assuming of course that you have one.

Hook it up,

and hoist it.
And of course, sometimes your boat is actually big enough to require a crane, this time, the Italian Americas Cup boat, Prada going from the concrete apron into Alameda's seaplane lagoon.

Hot Air Wood Bending

NOTE to readers:
This particular post has gotten the most traffic of all my posts for a while now.  Is there really that much interest in wood bending?  I would remove it if I thought that this post draws readers to my page by mistake, but then again, I'm willing to leave it up with the hope that would-be wood benders might also be interested in kayak building.  So other than that this page skews the statistics for this blog, no real harm done.  Hot air wood bending, really? Who would have known.

Steam bending of long pieces of wood requires a long steam box and a lot of time to get the steam box heated up.  So unless you intend to steam a lot of pieces, waiting for the box to heat is a pain.  Instead, we did some hot air bending.  The wood, black acacia had soaked to the point of sinking and so was thoroughly saturated with water.  So with a hot air gun and lots of clamps, we heated a few inches of wood at a time, bent, clamped and then moved on.  Simplicity itself.
Heat the inside.

Heat the outside, bend and clamp.
All done.  Wait for the thing to dry, remove clamps and glue.

Woman - Dog Boat

Inka Petersen launched her two hatch baidarka yesterday.  One hatch was for her, the other for her dog, Rosie.  The boat was a bit of a challenge to design since its volume was fairly small - total length 15 feet by 22 inches wide.  With low free board, proper trim becomes more important.  So we launched the boat.  I will let the pictures tell the story.
The boat empty. Trim good.

The boat minus Rosie.  Needs ballast.

The boat with Rosie in the dog seat. Trim pretty good.
Actually, part of what contributed to the trim inequity was that none of the seams had been sealed yet and the boat was taking on water fast and heading for the stern.  Still, we all were happy, christened the boat with some Anchor Steam, a local SF brew.  I was hoping for some Alaskan Amber but the supermarket wasn't handling it. Plus I got a swim in. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Fiberglass and other crimes

Sometime ago I got the notion that when you build something yourself you get to control how much violence you do to your environment and to yourself.  Your time is your own and you know how to price it when you're doing something for yourself and so you can make good decisions rather than the strictly economic decisions of someone who has no goal other than to make money.
If you buy something that's been manufactured disreputably, the seller usually takes great care to keep you ignorant of how much damage was done to the environment and the people who manufactured the thing. The seller usually tries to create a happy shopping environment that floods your brain with endorphins so that you forget all about the awful conditions under which the thing was made, assuming that you ever cared how the thing was made or were able to find out how it was made if you did. Or as someone once said about sausages, you don't really want to know what went into them. And so if you buy anything you probably don't want to know how it was made.

So when somebody actually says something honest about a manufacturing process, I am heartened, and so I quote here from Thomas Firth Jones excellent book, Low Resistance Boats.
"Fiberglass work is alienating, because no matter what suits are worn and fans are run, it's smelly and filthy and unhealthy.  It's possible to lay up a hull or two nonchalantly, but if the work is done steadily, alienation sets in. I've never known a conscientious fiberglass worker, and when opportunity arises, many will go beyond carelessness to sabotage.  Urinating into the mold is standard.  Beer bottles and pails of uncatalyzed resin are routinely chucked into keels.  Whenever possible, the work is done drunk."
Well, you get the idea.  Jones goes on to advise the prospective buyer of a fiberglass boat to get it from a shop that doesn't do enough fiberglass work to be alienated by the process.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Stegosaurus Boat Construction

Ben, my neighbor at the shop is building a motor boat. The process of boat building is a great deal easier than it used to be due to CAD files and NC routers. The long and the short of it is that you no longer need drawings from which to build a boat.  The shape of the boat parts is contained in a file that can be downloaded to a numerically controlled (NC) router that cuts not only the molds but also the frames and bulkheads that make up the boat.  Once all the molds are routed out, they are assembled in a manner that resembles one of these stegosaurus models they sell in museum gift shops.

 Once you have all the molds and frames assembled, you are ready to glue the permanent components together.  After that, you cover the whole thing in plywood and then in fiberglass and epoxy resin and you have yourself a boat.  No lofting and other traditional unpleasantness.
The view from the rear.  Note the cramped quarters.  Luckily, Ben has all of his machinery on wheels so he can roll it out of the way or into position as need be.

Three quarters view from the rear.  The plywood stays in the boat and the stuff without grain is temporary molds and gets removed.

The view from the front of the stegosaurus.

San Francisco Maritime Museum Warehouse Relocation

For some time, the San Francisco Maritime Museum housed various odds and ends in a warehouse at the former Alameda Naval Air Station.  A few weeks ago they apparently relocated to a warehouse in San Leandro.  So for a few hours, various of their treasures, mostly unrestored wrecks or parts of wrecks were staged on flat bed trucks outside the Alameda warehouse that I fortuitously happened to pass on the day of the move which allowed me to take some pictures which I now am able to share.
A wooden boat and to the left of it, who knows what, maybe a boiler off a steam ship.
parts of grown crooks off something picked off a mud flat somewhere in SF Bay.

An iron hulled boat to the back in red and black and something smaller in white and blue and wood.

some more detail on the wooden boat.

And the stern of the iron boat.  Very graceful.

And the iron boat close up. Looks like rust never sleeps.

A chunk of cross section of a wooden ship.  A wooden frame and six inch thick planking.  Looks kind of like a rack of ribs.

I have no idea what this is. But it looks like metal.

And more of the same. Could be the obelisk from 2001 Space Odyssey.

Some of the planking fell off revealing the steam bent frames.

I have no idea what it is. but it no doubt housed gentlemen at sea at one time.